Sunday, August 3, 1997
The romance of stealing
and confessing

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Confession is good for the soul. Now let's see what it will do for book sales.

Romance novelist Janet Dailey, who should not be confused with an actual author, has admitted that she borrowed from the work of her rival Nora Roberts. Ms. Roberts has issued a statement warning darkly that the plagiarism discovered so far is "only the tip of the iceberg."

Well, I should think so.

For instance, who owns the rights to heaving and throbbing? And what creative mind first decided that every hero should be chiseled and bronzed? Unless, of course, he is rugged with the beginnings of a 5 o'clock shadow. But they all have pecs like Fabio's and are big. Tall. Big and tall. And not bald.

Book police

Their names sound like race horses or small towns in New England. Whose idea was it to name all the men Devon and Hunter and Roarke and Kane and Hawk? What about Charlie? Or Bud?

The women are Eden and Jemma and Cady, who sometimes have a streak of independence. They all have unruly long locks, sometimes tangled, but never trimmed into a becoming pixie.

Who first decided to use the phrase secret places, when down there was perfectly serviceable?

If Mrs. Dailey's disclosure about the origins of her 1996 book, Notorious, sells more copies of it, maybe all imitators will confess. This would save the book police the tedium of looking for larceny in the gazillion romance novels on the market and in every garage sale in America.

It's not easy to spot a theft. (So far, even Mrs. Dailey has not noticed that she stole the title from Alfred Hitchcock.)

"Whatever skill he had, whatever patience he's developed, he would use tonight," reads a passage in Nora Roberts' book Sweet Revenge.

Mrs. Dailey said she swiped that passage for Notorious, where we learn that "Tonight demanded all the skill and patience he possessed." This is just one shocking example. Ms. Roberts said she is poring over other books by Mrs. Dailey hoping to bring "an end to this disturbing pattern in a way that best serves the interests and integrity of the writing community."

Not to mention the reading community.

"I can only apologize to Nora, whom I've considered a friend, and to my readers forany pain or embarrassment my conduct has caused," Mrs. Dailey said.

Everybody's doing it

Really, I think this woman is being too hard on herself. Everybody's doing it, not just romance novelists.

Take Martha Stewart. Do you think she came up with the idea of whipping egg whites into peaks? If so, I'll refer you to pages 544-45 of The Joy of Cooking by Cincinnati authors Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. "To describe the beating of egg whites is almost as cheeky as advising how to lead a happy life." Nonetheless, they advise that eggs be beaten until they "stand in peaks that are firm, but still soft."

Aha. And this was written years before The Martha Stewart Cookbook told us on page 594 to whip our egg whites "until soft peaks form." Clearly, the Rombauers also inspired Julia Child, generally beloved even though she suffers from vocal disharmony and has been, for the most part, too tall. On page 290 of In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, she advises readers to whip eggs into - you guessed it - "soft peaks."

This must be the culinary equivalent of "greedy mouths" and "milky white breasts."

Anyway, now that Janet Dailey has been featured on national television and in newspapers all over the country, I think we can look forward to a flurry of contrition from writers. Maybe even from painters and musicians.

Just in case confessing is good for the career, I stole the description of Julia Child from my friend Frank Shue, who is retired and has nothing better to do than think of impolite things to say. I sincerely hope that my coming clean about this matter will result in an invitation from Oprah and a serious conversation with Stone Phillips.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.